From Library Journal
Gaines (English, Duke Univ.; Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice, and the Law) here explores the world of the silent black independent film movement from the perspective of race identity. Through an examination of the films of Oscar Micheaux, the 1903 Edison short What Happened in the Tunnel, and D.W. Griffiths's 1915 Birth of a Nation, Gaines discusses theories of identification, the concept of "passing," and, in particular, the writings of film theorist Christian Metz. Nontheorist readers might find Gaines's more philosophical sections daunting, but they add significantly to the understanding of the reactivity of black film during the silent era. A welcome addition to the growing library of "race film" monographs, including Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence's Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences (LJ 7/00) and J. Ronald Green's Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (LJ 7/00), this is recommended for all film studies collections.DAnthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., TX
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From the Inside Flap
In the silent era, American cinema was defined by two separate and parallel industries, with white and black companies producing films for their respective, segregated audiences. Jane Gaines's highly anticipated new book reconsiders the race films of this era with an ambitious historical and theoretical agenda.
Fire and Desire offers a penetrating look at the black independent film movement during the silent period. Gaines traces the profound influence that D. W. Griffith's racist epic The Birth of a Nation exerted on black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux, the director of the newly recovered Within Our Gates. Beginning with What Happened in the Tunnel, a movie that played with race and sex taboos by featuring the first interracial kiss in film, Gaines also explores the cinematic constitution of self and other through surprise encounters: James Baldwin sees himself in the face of Bette Davis, family resemblance is read in Richard S. Robert's portrait of an interracial family, and black film pioneer George P. Johnson looks back on Micheaux.